Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”- Kay Redfield Jamison (Clinical Psychologist)

It has become evident over the years that children no longer engage in play in the same manner or in the same quantity as they used to. The reduction in play participation in children has been attributed to an increased focus on children’s academic performance from a young age, reduced time for free play due to our busy lifestyles and the increase in screen time amongst young children (Ginsburg, 2007)

What Is Play?

Before we can look at why play is important and what the effects of play deprivation are, we need to define play. Play was defined by Susan Knox (Occupational Therapist) as “the medium through which the child learns about himself and the world around him. It is that spontaneous activity through which he rehearses, experiences, experiments and orients himself to the actual world” (Knox, 1968).

From this definition, we can see that play is not merely an activity used to keep a child busy but rather a tool that children use to acquire knowledge about their capabilities and the environment in which they find themselves.  Play evolves with the child as he develops new cognitive, physical and sensory skills. Children, therefore, participate in various types of play as they move on to a new developmental phase in their lives.

Types of play are often divided into:

  • Sensory motor play
  • Functional Play
  • Constructive play
  • Pretend play
  • Games with rules

Why Is Play Important?

Participating in play allows for the physical, cognitive, emotional and social development of the child through exploration, repetition and understanding. Through engaging in play children have the opportunity to copy or replicate actions and behaviours that they have observed in real life situations, which enables them to practise these skills and ultimately master them.

Some of the skills facilitated through play include:

  • Emotional: Self-esteem, frustration tolerance and impulse control.
  • Physical: Muscle strength and coordination.
  • Cognitive: Problem-solving, decision making, abstract thinking.
  • Social: Turn taking, emotional regulation and communication.


Effects Of Play Deprivation

Now that we have established what play is and why it is important to our children, we can clearly see how not engaging in age-appropriate play activities can influence our child’s physical, cognitive, social and emotional development.

By reducing the types of play a child can engage in, the child is deprived of the opportunity to practice certain skills which he or she will need to move on to the next developmental phase or which might only be required as he or she gets older.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that children have the opportunity to engage in a variety of play activities without the restrictions placed on play by our society or physical environment.

For ideas on play activities for your child visit: